This article examines the poetics of death in the Iraqi American writer Sinan Antoon’s novel The Corpse Washer. The novel depicts death as a leitmotif while emphasizing the perils of wars and violence on the Iraqi people. Throughout the novel, death is omnipresent, looming over the lives of the characters, particularly the protagonist Jawad who endures nightmares, hallucinations, and split personality. These conditions are engendered by prolonged wars and cycles of violence, including the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), the Gulf War (1990–1991), and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In addition to these wars, characters in The Corpse Washer are victimized by foreign sanctions, suicide bombings, sectarianism, and political corruption. In analyzing the tropes of death and violence in The Corpse Washer, this article extends classical trauma theory informed by Western assumptions and championed by Cathy Caruth, Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub, and others. It decolonizes trauma theory by tracing cases of tragedy, violence, and occupation in the global South, an analysis that will render the theory cross-cultural and inclusive of non-Western traumata.

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